North Bay Business Journal: Memorial union election decision next week or later

NewsDecember 23, 2009

By Gary Quackenbush

SANTA ROSA — A series of ballot challenges to determine who was eligible to vote in the Dec. 17-18 union election at St. Joseph Health System’s Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has delayed a final tally and certification of the election by the National Labor Relations Board until after Dec. 29, according to Tim Peck, assistant regional director with the NLRB in San Francisco.

A preliminary count found 283 workers voting to be represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers and only 13 favoring the Service Employees International Union – United Health Workers West. But 263 of the 675 service and technical workers voted to have no union at all. And challenges to 17 ballots could result in neither side receiving the required 50 percent plus one.

“We sent letters to both contenders to see if the parties would resolve their ballot challenge differences voluntarily with a requirement that they reply on or before Dec. 29,” Mr. Peck said.  “There will be no certification of the election until ballot challenge issues are resolved.”

After the final tallies are counted, it normally takes a week to before the NLRB issues its certification, meaning that a final, certified election may not be announced until early January.

On one side in the Memorial contest was the well-established 75-year-old SEIU-UHW (Service Employees International Union – United Health Workers West) led by Andy Stern, with 150,000 members in California at some 360 facilities — including 5,000 workers in Santa Rosa.   On the other is the small and emerging NUHW (National Union of Healthcare Workers) headed by Sal Rosselli and other former officers of the SEIU-UHW who have formed a separate “independent, member-led union” intended to offer health care workers a choice.   While the NUHW does not, as yet, have any employees under contract, in recent months the NUHW has entered into a series of contract talks and its leaders have decades of experience in negotiating successful agreements while they were part of SEIU.

As a result of the heated rhetoric, concern has mounted over the ability of the Memorial contest to be conducted and decided in a fair manner consistent with NLRB ground rules of engagement.

“We wanted to ensure that a fair election took place without objectionable conduct by any parties in a laboratory-style environment.  It was up to the employees to decide which way they wished to go without violence or campaign pressures imposed while they are were line ready to vote and without anyone using surveillance measures in an attempt to see which employees are voting,” said Mr. Peck.  “While each party involved was allowed to have observers present, we had three people on site to both conduct and monitor the election process.”

On Dec. 10, a rally was held at noon outside Memorial Hospital organized by local leaders, elected officials and clergy that announced the formation of a Fair Election Oversight Commission to protect workers’ rights during the hotly contested voting.

The newly formed commission included 17 members who represent a cross section of the community.  Jo Ann Consiglieri, a former member of Memorial Hospital’s founding order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, and Monsignor John Brenkle, Pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church co-chair the commission.  Members include Father Ray Decker of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice; Veronica Jacobi, Santa Rosa City Council member; Father Angelito Peres, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Windsor, as well as Martin Bennett and Michael Aparicio with the Santa Rosa Junior College.

Additional commissioners included Chris Fadeff, with the Marin Democratic Party; Lisa Maldonado of the North Bay Labor Council; Carl Patrick with IMPACT! Petaluma: Caroline Bañuelos and Holly Jaramillo with the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club; Stephen Harper, the social action chair with Congregation Shomrei Torah; David Wells and Tony White, professors emeriti of Sonoma State University; plus the Rev. Blythe Sawyer of the Petaluma United Church of Christ and Rev. Chris Bell of the Santa Rosa Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

SEIU had filed a series of charges with the NLRB that temporarily stalled the election process for five months.  The NLRB finally dismissed these charges and rejected SEIU’s attempts to delay the election setting the stage for next week’s vote. Shortly thereafter, Memorial Hospital announced its willingness to negotiate ground rules for the NLRB election.

According to Ms. Maldonado, executive director with the North Bay Labor Council representing some 60 unions, the SEIU was criticized by the council for contesting efforts by Memorial Hospital workers to join NUHW and was asked to respect worker’s rights by withdrawing from the election.

In statements made by the NUHW, more than 100,000 hospital workers, as well as those in homecare and nursing homes, have petitioned to join NUHW since January 2009.  In April, the NUHW claimed that a majority of Memorial Hospital workers signed a petition to join the NUHW.

Source: North Bay Business Journal